A few months ago, a global media tempest erupted after Polish Catholics held a mass public prayer event across the country. The BBC deemed it "controversial", due to "concerns it could be seen as endorsing the state's refusal to let in Muslim migrants".
The same controversy, however, did not erupt in Britain when 140,000 Muslims prayed in Birmingham's Small Heath Park, in an event organized by the Green Lane Mosque to mark the end of Ramadan.
France is debating whether or not to block prayer on the street. "They will not have prayers on the street, we will prevent street praying" Interior Minister Gerard Collomb announced.
"Public space cannot be taken over in this way", said the president of the Paris regional council, Valérie Pécresse, who led a protest by councilors and MPs. In Italy, hundreds of Muslims prayed next to Colosseum, and Muslim prayers were held in front of Milan's Cathedral.
The numbers are telling. When Muslims throughout Europe celebrated the final day of Islam's holy month of Ramadan with public prayers, city squares -- from Naples (Italy) to Nice (France) -- overflowed. The annual Birmingham event began in 2012 with 12,000 faithful. Two years later, the number of the faithful rose to 40,000. In 2015, it was 70,000. In 2016, the number was 90,000. In 2017, it was 100,000. In 2018, the number was 140,000. Next year?
"While the two [local] churches are nearly empty, the Brune Street Estate mosque has a different problem — overcrowding," noted The Daily Mail, exposing the situation in London.
"The mosque itself is little more than a small room rented in a community centre, and it can hold only 100. However, on Fridays, those numbers swell to three to four times the room's capacity, so the worshippers spill out onto the street, where they take up around the same amount of space as the size of the near-empty St Mary's [Church] down the road".
Public prayer is not a "normal" manifestation of the legitimate Western freedom of worship. Through these public events, some extremist Muslims seem to be presenting an alternative to Europe's secularism.
How does this compare to the Middle East and North Africa? In Tunisia, praying in the street has been banned. And in Egypt, preaching from 20,000 "storefront mosques" was banned throughout Ramadan. "Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood members took control of many of these mosques and have continued to use them as platforms to broadcast their religious misconceptions," Jaber Taya, spokesman of Egypt's Ministry of Religious Endowments, said. These Arab countries know better than Europe that to contain extremism, it is crucial to control the street.
In Birmingham, one of England's most Islamized cities, the annual mass public prayer has taken place under the leadership of the Green Lane Mosque, headquarters of the radical Markali Jamat Ahi Hadith organization, which is affiliated with the supposedly "moderate" Muslim Council of Britain. Not only does the Green Lane Mosque forbid women to wear trousers or use Facebook; its speakers preach hatred for non-Muslims. Abu Usamah, one of the primary imams at the mosque, was recorded saying, "Osama Bin Laden, he's better than a thousand Tony Blairs, because he's a Muslim"; "Allah has created the woman, even if she gets a PhD, deficient. Her intellect is incomplete"; and advocating that homosexuals should be "thrown off" mountains.
An report in the French newspaper Le Figaro concluded:
"Birmingham is England's second-largest city after London. It has nearly a million inhabitants, half of whom are immigrants, with a quarter Muslims. In the very popular Small Heath neighborhood, located east of the city center, nearly 95 percent of the population is Muslim.
"The many mosques here offer a very wide range of practices ranging from Sufism to the most radical Salafism, such as the Salafi Mosque... Some shops display different closing times corresponding to those of daily prayers...
"The bookstores are religious. Travel agencies guarantee 'Muslim-friendly' holidays with destinations where clients – especially female clients -- have access to hotels with gender-segregated areas and swimming pools where women can bathe while 'preserving their modesty'".
It may not be a coincidence that many British jihadists have come from Birmingham, which has been called "the jihadist capital of Britain". The French magazine L'Obs published an investigative report about French Islamists moving to Birmingham to enjoy a freer and more multicultural environment.
That 140,000 Muslims recently gathered in England for a public prayer event organized by a mosque known for its extremism and links to jihadi terrorists, should not only alarm the British authorities, but those in other European countries as well.
It may not be a coincidence that many British jihadists have come from Birmingham, which has been called "the jihadist capital of Britain." Pictured: Birmingham Central Mosque, in Birmingham, England. (Image source: Oosoom/Wikimedia Commons)
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.